The reason why we market

We all know the reason why we market. We want to create interest in our goods and services that will convert into leads which can be closed to create revenue. We want to do this efficiently to create the return on investment our shareholders are seeking. This is the definitive reason why we market. But there is another reason why for marketing and it occurs in the how.

When I think about how I am marketing/advertising I start to think about why in the context of the customer.

  • Why would a customer find this offer appealing?
  • Why would a customer bother to read a direct mail piece I sent them?
  • Why would a customer find this blog post interesting?
  • Why would they like us Facebook?
  • Why would they download our app?
  • Why would they visit our website?
  • Why would they sign up for our email list?
  • Why would they open that email when I send it to them?
  • Why would this brand narrative be interesting to a customer?

That is a lot of different whys with the same common denominator: the customer.

I believe, that too often brands are trying to get people to take an action (like, share, scan, download, subscribe, buy) just because the brand wants the customer to do that action, while forgetting to think about why a customer would want to take that action. For instance what is the point of the ad copy line (in print or on radio and I think I hear/read it daily) “Like us” on face book.

So when I drive by a car wash and see a sign that reads “Like us” on Facebook…really… I am going to like a car wash…why? Why would I spend my limited time to like a car wash? Or for that matter break the distracted driving law by using my phone while driving. What possible value could there be?

Well, to be fair, I suppose there could be value but the car wash has not given me any proof or idea of what that value might be. The brand is just telling me what they want me to do by stating “Like us” on Facebook with no reason as to why.

I have always thought people go online for two reasons:

  1. To be entertained: To watch videos that are mindless or educational or compelling or surfing their Facebook news feed or reading blog posts, news etc…
  2. To solve a problem/seek a solution: If a customer needs or wants to buy something they go online to conduct research, or to pay a parking ticket, or do their banking.

Considering the above two reasons people go online, I think about what the Flaman brand needs to be online. Our marketing needs to be educational to solve problems or entertaining, otherwise there is no reason why a customer is going to give it their time. I need to ensure that every time we market and want a customer to take an action we explain the reasons why as a brand we can: 1) Be entertaining or 2) Solve problems for that customer so they will take an action. If we can do this well more customers will understand why they should buy from us.

It is an old adage but think of your customer first. Think about why your customer would want to interact/respond to your marketing. Why would they want to “Like us” on Facebook? When your customer understands why they should respond to your marketing and then ultimately buy… then you are back to the start again, the definitive reason why we market.

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Using User Testing

“I don’t care what you think!” Seems like a poor choice of words to say to the President of your organization. But I say it from time to time, followed up by finger pointing around the table at the other executives with the same line: “I don’t care what you think, or what you think, what you think or what I think for that matter. I only care about what our customer thinks.”

In our senior management meeting we often have this kind of fiery discourse about the topic that is the most important topic for our company: the customer. The last time this barrage of “I don’t care what you think” came out of my mouth, the team was having an intense debate regarding the re-design of our Ag website. We had been bouncing back and forth competing ideas, with each member of the executive team sponsoring their idea backed by a passionate opinion. We were getting nowhere. I felt the only way to break the stalemate was with the above statement through which I laid down the trump card: the customer. But how do we figure out what the customer thinks or wants? This was the immediate follow up question, which I quickly answered with a smile “Simple; user testing.”

Now I need to be clear, we were debating specifically about what would be the best navigation system for our customers. If we wanted to know what a customer thinks or wants we would go out and gather opinions which is market research not user testing. User testing is creating a controlled environment and having the test users going through a set of actions and then documenting the results. Generally you are trying to figure out the following:

  1. Efficiency: How fast or easy is it for someone to do a task: such as request a quote?
  2. Accuracy: Are they making mistakes or finding a the right information: for instance if in the testing one of the tasks was to find information on a Grain Cart and they could not find it or found something else instead and did not know it was wrong…well you might have an issue.
  3. Recall: What does the user remember or what is the impression the site gives them. “look away from the screen and tell us what you remember.” An important question to determine what sticks in your customers mind from your website.
  4. Emotional Response: How does the person feel about the process? For example we had users go though our online check out process. This is a process which you want the user to feel secure, non-stressed, and not annoyed while doing.

So we decided to outsource some testing on our current navigation systems to learn from for the next navigation system. We had the users conduct simple tasks (as mentioned above) and comment on the process. User after user went through the same questions and we watched video after video absorbing the results and feedback.

Humbling….


The feedback was consistent, thus relevant and what we learned was priceless; because the users uncovered deficiencies we never knew we had. As well our grand debate about which style of navigation system was irrelevant, our navigation is liked and enjoyed, so why change it.

I can tell you if you are ever debating the value of user testing; stop debating, it is so cost effective you will be embarrassed that you have not done it before. Remember, I don’t care what you think, neither should you. We both need to only care about what the customer thinks.

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Online meets Offline at NATDA

Talking Trailers at NATDA

Disclosure: this is not a new insight or topic but it is new for me…

I was recently in St. Louis.  I rolled in late the night before the NATDA trade show started; my head did not hit the pillow until 1:30 am.  NATDA (North American Trailer Dealer Association) is the networking show for the trailer industry.  Manufacturers and vendors showcase their products to dealers. There are educational sessions for improving business practices; all in all it is a very traditional industry event for a very traditional industry. I have been attending the show for five years as a buyer on the dealer side. The first year I attended I knew the person I went down with and three other people in the industry.  I was not very networked.

So I spent a lot of time engaging in traditional networking, exchanging business cards, conducting follow ups. I was rewarded with a slow growth of my network over the next three years and then 2012 hit.  I was asked to be a speaker at the event. Our dealership got profiled in the industry magazine.  I accepted and prepped myself to do the best job that I could.  (I presented twice). I shared all my research and insights as best I could and as a result I was exposed to everyone in the industry, an industry that was just starting to connect with the new social tools (Linkedin, Facebook).  After the show people started to connect with me on one or both of the platforms, click by click my network grew; and then by emails and phone calls relationships developed.

In a blink of an eye a year goes by and I found myself  back at NATDA in St. Louis yet again in September, 2013.  This time it was different.  It seemed like everyone knew me and I knew them and we had plenty to discuss and exchange.  We shared insights and ideas throughout the show.  Ideas and insights I would have never had by myself.  2013 was a completely different show for me than all the previous years. This is an industry full of smart, progressive individuals and after five years I finally feel really connected to it.

So how did things change in only one year?  I believe social media was the tipping point that expanded my network and made the show a great networking forum for me.   But that being said social media was just one of many contributing factors that connected me to the industry.

  • First and foremost NATDA is the enabling forum. The trade show initially brought us all together to meet each other.  Without NATDA there would be no connections within the industry. Now NATDA is using Linkedin and Facebook helping keep the industry connected throughout the year.
  • Secondly, there are many individuals that have put in their time at this event and in the industry. Most of the people I am getting to know have been going to the show as much as I have and have at least a decade of experience in the trailer industry. So we have paid our dues and we respect each other for that. Moreover these are individuals that give back to the industry and try to improve the industry.  It is easy to connect with individuals that are interested in sharing insights and experience for the betterment of the industry.  The folks that I have the strongest connection with are individuals that want to support and strengthen the industry as I do. Seth Godin writes about tribes and when you find your tribe you can easily connect. The folks I write about, we are of the same tribe, so naturally we connect.
  • Thirdly, I sought and accepted connections online; I put a concentrated effort into growing my Linkedin and Facebook reach with members of the industry.  I am also quite active online producing plenty of content, this allowed people to get to know me and if they did the same I was able to get to know them.
  • Lastly with the connections I made, I also put in an effort to develop the relationships individually either with direct e-mails or phone calls. So when September 2013 rolled around, I was able to reap the rewards in person face to face.

With all of the above said I want to step back and unpack this post with an insight, so it more than just a feel good rant. I have been reading the pundits for years that pontificate about how all you need to do is put in your time, work every day building connections and the rewards will come.

I agree that time is needed but I have been putting in time for several years and I am just starting to see the rewards, because you have to do more than just put in your time. You have to contribute, take risks and have the courage to publish your ideas for the industry to debate and critique. The key for me has been unselfishly supporting the industry to make it better by sharing successes and insights that are valuable to others. That has taken real time and effort, and ultimately provided the real rewards: strong connections and reciprocation of ideas.

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What would you buy?

Flatdeck Trailer Line up

It was a hot day; I had just finished walking the customer through our good, better, best line of flatdeck trailers. He seemed impressed by a couple of the units in fact he commented “I am not sure what I want now….what would you buy?”. I thought about it briefly and then gave him an honest answer.

In the last several weeks I have covered for trailer sales staff two days. Both days were holidays on which we were short staffed and I drew the short straw, hence I was covering. That said, I enjoy interaction with customers and I do not get to do direct selling very often anymore. The reasons I enjoy the interaction are far removed from just making sales. So I reflected on why I like jumping in on the sales process from time to time and wanted to share.

1) I like to reinforce customer service. When I cover for sales staff, I do not ever try to do a hard close to sell a trailer. My goal is to help the customer in their purchase decision, even if it means my organization cannot help them. At Flaman the number one goal is Customer Service. As a leader in the organization it is my job to live that goal, so providing customer service is one of my main motivations. Interacting with the customers helps me to understand what our sales team has as obstacles for providing customer service.

2) I like testing our product brands. When I am qualifying what a customer needs I walk them through our good, better, best offering and that often means showcasing different brands. I make a lot of buying decisions for the division on paper. That’s fine but what I believe is correct or what I think is best for the customer could be very offside. So taking the opportunity to showcase the brands lets me learn how the customer feels about the different products and the features and benefits, as opposed to what I think they feel.

3) I like interaction with our customers. As a VP of the company you can get distanced from the front lines, as a result you are removed from the stuff that matters: delivering value to our customers. Seems like a trite statement to make, but getting out in the yard is a true litmus test. I come back from every customer interaction with ideas of what we can do better.

4) I like to sharpen the saw. I used to do a lot of direct selling. I still teach selling techniques to new members of the sales team. That said the saw gets rusty without use. Getting out to the yard helps sharpen the skills for the next time I teach trailer sales techniques.

5) I like to listen and learn. Collecting marketing data on customers is great, interpreting the data is great, but talking one on one with the customers as to how they found out about our brand or what brought them to our yard….priceless.

6) I like honestly answering the question: What would you buy? The truth of the matter is that there currently is not a product brand in our yard that I wouldn’t buy. When I order product I focus on creating value for the customer. Sometimes I have to admit product has come in from a manufacturer that I would not buy. We discount it, tell the buyer why we are discounting the product, take our lumps, get rid of it and never buy it again. So when the customer asked me “what would you buy?” I was happy to say any of the three I have shown you but here are different reasons/circumstances why I would buy each one. The customer then made his decision and was the happy owner of a new Trailtech L270 Tilt.

This post has no digital marketing insights, but sometimes you need to get back to basics in order to understand what to do next in the new world of marketing. The purpose of marketing is to create sales opportunities and I believe you cannot get a more clear understanding of your customers buying decisions than actual interactions on the sales floor. It is fine to pontificate and brain storm about purchasing behavior and how to create leads in a board room, but sometimes getting dirty in the yard is the best marketing research you can do.

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The Struggle of Creating Content

Around Everest Base Camp

Around Everest Base Camp

Sitting on a glacier at 17,500 feet, outside in the cold and wind is not an ideal environment to be writing in.  To access to the internet you have to hike/scramble fifteen minutes from camp to reach a high moraine which has a line of sight to the nearest cell tower many miles down valley.  As an added challenge the tower is solar powered and will only work when it is sunny thus bright sun glares on your laptop screen turning it opaque enough so you cannot tell what you are typing unless you hold your hand against the screen or unzip your jacket and create a hood for your laptop.  Despite these difficulties I wrote blog posts, quite regularly that were verbose, scripting several at 1700 words or greater.  From base camp many others joined me at the “ internet hotspot”  and they produced reams of content.  My climbing team alone (three western climbers and our expedition leader Wally Berg) had so much to write that in the 70 days we were away from North America we created 256 pages of content!

I have been back in the world more than thirty days and this is my first non climbing blog post.  More over upon my return when I reviewed our corporate websites, no one on the marketing team had created a blog post since my last posts in February (they did post content created by other Flaman team members).  Only by the end of June has the team produced some content.  (Prodded by me upon my return)

So why is creating content in all the comforts of my home and office a struggle for me and the ninth store team?  

As a team we thought about this deficiency. It stumped us, we get all our other projects done on time why can’t we create content consistently and regularly? The first thing we grasped onto was that we had no deadlines for the content, thus no schedule.  All our other projects have definitive beginnings and endings.  Creating content is an ongoing process, not a project.  So in response to this thought we got together, brainstormed and created a content schedule with topics and deadlines.  We now have our beginnings and endings. I am happy to say the content calendar currently is working, we are getting content out regularly.

But I wonder about the quality.  Our desire is to produce videos, blogs, podcasts, info graphics, and white papers. On a personal side I have attacked creating “podcasts” with vigor, but I only have one idea I am interested in for a blog, and according to the calendar I have a lot of blogs to write.  The difference between the two is that all important thing called passion.  I have a passion for creating new and interesting content, but I am not interested in writing blogs reviewing trailers.  Partly because I believe blogs reviewing trailers are boring and self serving and do not provide real value to our customers.

It is not that I do not like writing blogs, obviously I was passionate enough about sharing climbing stories that I hiked out onto a cold glacier and with numb fingers pounded out posts.  So if there is a desire you will find the way.  I am passionate about podcasts so I am ahead of my required content schedule.   I have a blog due for trailers and I have not started it yet. So the real question is how to create a passion for creating content?

Hold on a minute, do you really need passion  to create content or do you just need butt glue that will keep you in your chair until the job is done.  Some argue for the web that while quality is good to have for corporate websites it is more important to have consistent quantity of content that will keep releasing new relevant information that will then increase your SEO. It does not need to be good, a search engine can not tell how good a post is written just whether it is relevant or not.  I understand that…but can’t we have both?  And how could that be achieved?

Wanting to achieve both quantity and quality we anticipated that some members of the team are going to want to write, others will want to make videos, while others will want to create podcast..etc.  I believe the problem we had before was twofold.  First we did not have a content calendar to create accountability so things slipped to the next week and the next week and so on.  Second we did not have enough people creating content.  The few we had got over worked and were not excited about writing so eventually with no deadlines, no content got done.  Now we a have a diverse team and a long line up of contributors so the pressure is off and the contributors are contributing content that they like, but they have deadlines to be accountable to.

With these two strategies in place I believe we have a good shot at sustaining consistent quality content. I know our simple solution seems obvious, but I believe we (like many others) fell into the trap of knowing what needed to get done, but not getting the work done, and then not knowing how to get it done .  It is easy to state we need to create content.  The reality is quite difficult.

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FaceTime Fun – New Media Tools

For all our divisions meetings I do presentations, mostly about marketing and changing consumer trends. For about half of the divisions I also do sales training.
In the last several years I have been adding in digital media communication to our training. In today’s world you can be contacted by e-mail (gosh so old school!) text messaging, Facebook messages, Twitter…the list goes on and on. How do you respond through all these channels?

For years I have had sales people telling me they are selling units via email and now text. Is an email or text indicating an agreement on a price to take the unit legally binding? Is the sale actually closed? Are these channels any different than customers indicating the same thing over the phone? Because it is in writing, is there more legal weight behind the interaction? All good questions…

Part of the training I have been conducting is focusing on how to respond in the different mediums: conversation in person, over the phone, via e-mail or text messaging, and social media all have to be handled differently, and some of our team do not realize that. They go for the close just as they would if they had the person in their office. Or they funnel the conversation to get the person into their office to close…but more on this later.

So where does the title of this post come in: FaceTime Fun? Recently, I supported a salesperson at another dealership two hours away by “facetiming” their customer. Why FaceTime? It seemed to be the medium of choice in order to conduct a presentation to the customer as they sat in their living room. The unit is a complex concession trailer and needed a subject matter expert (me, the Trailer Division Manager one of my hats) to present and answer questions. So the salesperson asked me(via e-mail) to help conduct the presentation to the customer. FaceTime is not new to me, nor should it be new to you, but it was new to me as a presentation sales tool.

The presentation went great! The customer’s daughter lived in Saskatoon where I work so she held the phone to follow me around as I went through the trailer. The customer asked questions so the presentation was interactive. In fact, I was able to conduct the “circle selling” format (start at the hitch and work your way around the trailer, then go inside) that I teach salespeople to do when presenting in person. At the end of the presentation, I closed with questions: “do you have everything you need to make a decision? Anything else you would like to see?” In this case I knew the customer was being handled by a salesperson so I did not want to end with pressure close tactics.

This leads me back to email, texting and social media: do you use pressure close tactics in these mediums? Can you? Should you? I suppose it all depends on the context of the conversation and channel used. With text and social media, in some cases having that connection implies an existing relationship. If you have an existing relationship, this may be the way the customer wants to be communicated with; in that case answer the questions and close away.

However, if you are answering a general inquiry through email or social media, the customer is usually seeking help and information, and is in the evaluation stage of the sales funnel. They do not want hard close tactics and in most instances hard close tactics will end the conversation as opposed to continuing it. This fact has frustrated some of our sales team from time to time; they wonder why the customer will not just call them so they can close the sale. We live in a 24 hour, always on world, and maybe the customer does not have time during the business day to call, or does not want to call because they do not want to deal with close tactics. Either way, if the conversation has been started, do not stunt it; nourish it and build a relationship, eventually the customer may call or just purchase via email.

Another way to look at it is to think of the first email like it is the first sentence in a face to face customer interaction. If during the first email a salesperson goes for a close, that is the equivalent to asking a hard close question within the first sentence of an in-person presentation. “Yes we have that unit in stock it is $10,995. Will you be paying cash or financing?” In my many years of sales that has never worked, so I should not expect to close a new customer with the first email.

There are many, many new media tools and many, many ways to use them to market and sell. Be creative, have fun, but be mindful of the medium. Different tactics need to be used for the different channels in order to reach the same result.

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Forgotten Customers

We have been reviewing our marketing costs with a great deal of scrutiny. The litmus test is simple: can we track results? If not, we need to change the medium, or the offer, or ditch the channel entirely. More on this in another blog.

But more importantly, our review has also brought forth an embarrassing reality: over 80% of our efforts can be classified as acquisition based marketing. As we did a deep dive into our customer lifecycle management and database, a further realization occurred: we have thousands and thousands of forgotten customers. Deep down we knew this, and in fact we had hired more floor sales staff at several dealerships to focus entirely on getting in touch with our customers that have not been touched in years. When these new salespeople dug into the database and asked former customers why they stopped shopping at Flaman, shamefully (for us) an often repeated comment was “because nobody has been in touch.”

I hang my head…

Everyone knows it is easier to keep a customer than to attract a new one. Everyone knows that 80% of your profits come from the best 20% of your customers. In a world of decreasing customer loyalty and an ever increasing competitive retail landscape, I suppose it is easy to fall into the trap of focusing on growth by trying to attract more and more customers. Create a better offer, find new channels to reach the customer profile, expand your reach. But are you really gaining more customers or spending more money to just create a bigger customer churn cycle?

How about focusing on what you have and saturating your existing accounts. Grow from within. For Flaman, we are essentially a conglomerate that has been in business over 50 years. Our customer database is vast, a rental customer can be a fitness customer or an agriculture customer or a trailer customer or a parts and service customer. How much do our existing customers not know about us? How many would shop more frequently if they did know and were not forgotten about?

We as an organization did not want to forget our customers. We pride ourselves on customer service, it is our number one company goal and we have people in house that call customers back after their major purchase to see how they are doing and how the product is working or not working for them. If there is a problem we do not pass it off to the warranty department to deal with. A vice president deals personally with the issue immediately. We do not let our sales people have too many customers, we limit them to 300 per year to focus them on their customers.

And there is the source: sales people are confined to 300 customers and they deal with far more, and the excess every year get forgotten. The top sales person in the organization has been with Flaman for 25 years. He provides outstanding customer service but by no fault of his own, how many customers have been forgotten about over the years? When we look at the entire organization the list is vast. But this is not the only source, the forgotten customer is an multi-factorial problem, we do not focus on retention enough. Let’s look at the our customer lifecycle management as I see it for Flaman Group of Companies:

Stage One: Acquisition
We spend a lot of effort in this area advertising in all channels. 80% of our marketing dollars go here.

Stage Two: Welcome
Every Customer is welcomed; 10% of our marketing dollars go here.

Stage Three: Retention/Saturation
Customers are assigned to sales people and our direct mail offers only focus on our recent customers (last two years). We have no customer loyalty programs. 10% of our marketing dollars go here.

Stage Four: Forgotten
Customers that do not get assigned to a salesperson may receive a direct mail for several years, and if they continue to buy they stay on the list; if not they become forgotten.

Stage Five: Win Back
We have work to do. In fact, in 2013, this is the one of the strategic objectives of the marketing department. We will be shifting considerable acquisition based marketing efforts to win back efforts towards our forgotten customers.

We have a problem and to fix it we are looking at it as an opportunity. How much opportunity does your organization have with its forgotten customers?

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Organizing Creativity

To be creative requires a moment of insight or a flash of brilliance in order to create a marketing campaign that captures the customers’ hearts and minds and engages at a grand new height with the company. Sure, this does occur to some extent. For the Ninth Store team Stuck in the Muck was such an insight by Jody Kemp, an Ag salesman out of Southey, Saskatchewan. But to be fair, most of our marketing (SABEX Award winning no less) is quite structured, conservative, measured, weighed and continuously tweaked. Quite boring stuff, not the Mad Men moments individuals going into marketing might hope for.

Even Stuck in the Muck, once the idea latched on and the risk taken to embark on the journey, became a managed affair. So in marketing, does creativity equal success? Or does organized, evaluated effort, manically linked to measured results equal success?

I believe they are both needed but would argue if you serve up what customers want, helpful insightful information to make buying decisions, and have the basic infrastructure of marketing (good products, good price, good placement) in place, good promotion can only succeed.

Creating good promotion through today’s platforms does not need to be incredibly creative, it is more of a science (especially digital media), in which results are measured, evaluated and adjusted based on results.

So how are we organizing our creativity? Quite easily to be honest: our campaigns are matched to seasonal sales cycles, with each campaign anchored by a tradition outbound media piece – a direct mail catalogue (we produce 18 -24 a year total) for each division per campaign. As well, dependent upon the division, each campaign is sometimes doubly anchored with a tradeshow. These campaigns are not insightful moments of brilliance, they are mapped and broke into tasks and work breakdown structures with timelines, due dates and resources assigned. Various mediums are used: print ads, radio, TV, direct mail and digital media are utilized based on our evaluation of customer reach and past sales results for each division/medium.

So how do we manage our creativity? Our team is spread across multiple locations and multiple provinces, so we teleconference meetings (minimum weekly) and review projects together via a shared screen so all can view. We currently are transitioning from large mapped project boards plastered to two walls at head office in our marketing office (The Idea Room) to online project management software. This is a planned evolution of our management, which includes all outsourced external design human resources as well as internal stakeholders. We think it will work brilliantly.

So where is the creativity in all this boring organizing, project management, result measurement and evaluation? To be quite honest, it is scheduled and then evaluated. We do have intensive debates on storyboards and look and feel, and the creative goes through the hoops of evaluation and approval. To be fair to the importance of creative, if the pieces produced are not quality they do not work, regardless of how well you organize the campaign. So to determine quality (in my mind quality is just another word for effectiveness) we are trending towards more and more testing of our creative ideas, trying out our ideas in small markets or one bigger market before we cascade the idea across the organization. Some of the current campaign pieces are the result of several years of evolution. All this said, we do believe if you are not prepared to fail you cannot be innovative. However, we mitigate that failure obsessively (through the above tactics) and are very mindful that the other three Ps of marketing (product, price, placement) need to be solid before we unleash a powerful fourth (promotion).

Yet despite all these attempts to organize and manage creativity, I still drink whisky like Don Draper, and ideas come to me and all members of the team in the oddest of places and times, but our implementation of that creativity is not that creative at all.

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Permission Marketing

The stats are clear: as a marketer, you should put more of your company’s talent and treasure into inbound marketing as opposed to outbound marketing.
In fact, one must work constantly on obtaining permission from your current customers or potential customers to market to them, and the message must be of pure intentions.
In order to do that you must provide creative information that is relevant and timely to your customer base. You must work hard to do this because customers are no longer going to tolerate “yell and sell” tactics; they are too smart and see through the dog and pony show.

A lot of blogs and books go on and on with this type of rhetoric. Reviewed from afar, in broad strokes, the pundits are right. Of course they are right! I mean what customer wants his or her mailboxes overloaded with sale offerings they are not seeking or commercials on their favorite shows about products or services that are not relevant to them. This is obvious. So what marketers should focus on is obtaining customers permission to market to them by gaining their trust with free helpful information that will aid the customer in the buying process. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah….the rhetoric goes on and on. The pundits build permission marketing up to the be the holy grail all marketers must seek. All this said, I believe they are right, absolutely right, but what most books and blogs on the subject are not clear on is how to conduct permission marketing.

Unlike the holy grail, I do not believe permission marketing needs to be a difficult. I believe customers are seeking help in the buying process from pretty much the same old traditional outbound marketing information they always have. The change today is that they expect to get the information how and when they want it, whatever form they want (electronic, physical, in person) and on their schedule.

So the secret to permission marketing is to make your traditional outbound information accessible online and for mobile, by allowing downloads of your flyers and print ads and signups for notifications of this traditional outbound information. On our Flaman Group of Companies’ sites we are amazed at how many downloads we receive of our traditional outbound pieces we put up on our website. I have even thought to discontinue traditional print advertising entirely and just have our print ads available for download because I know that each downloads represents an interested customer, as opposed to the maybe 2% penetration print ads give us. And yes, I know the cost per lead from inbound marketing is 61% less than outbound.

So should you blog and provide helpful product advice for free? Absolutely you should. But if you are not a blogger or prolific writer (it is still a struggle for me to blog and write even the minimum the pundits pontificate that I should) and you are looking for an easy place to start permission marketing, just focus on making your traditional outbound effort available online. Your customers want the information, and may not feel like going to a tradeshow or your store to get it. Maybe after they download a brochure or print ad they may even read your blog.

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The Idea Room

I have never been one to pay much attention to work place design. Several months ago the Ninth Store team received a physical workplace transformation. The scattered physical team was relocated and consolidated into one room. The room quickly got labelled: The Idea Room by the new occupants.

Currently there are four full time team members in the room. Monday morning task review meetings are held in the room with part time team members joining to gather around a round table. Bi-monthly Ninth Store learning and metric review sessions are held in the same fashion with several members teleconferencing using Mikogo to share screens. The change has been remarkable and beyond expectations. Productivity and morale has gone up, creatively and accountability has gone up. Collaboration has gone up. In fact every management metric that can be measured has gone up.

For management gurus it really is not secret as to why. Create an environment with the right conditions and things flourish. What is that environment? An open, creative, social workspace which the team created, not management. An environment that the team feels ownership of; it is their space, not a temporary work cubical. That is the key, if you want engagement and buy in you need to give to get. The team was good before, now it is great. I wish we had made the move a long time ago to The Idea Room. Maybe someday I will join them.

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